Nine soldiers, five militants killed in attack on elite Yemeni force

ADEN (Reuters) - Suspected al Qaeda militants attacked a military checkpoint in southeastern Yemen, killing at least nine soldiers from a local force backed by a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the country, an official said on Thursday.

The official said that five suspected militants also died during the gun attack late on Wednesday outside al-Mukala, the Hadramout provincial capital, against a unit of the Hadrami Elite Forces.

The unit was set up and trained by the United Arab Emirates, as part of a strategy to combat al Qaeda, which had exploited a three-year civil war and tried to expand its control in the area before they were driven out.

Hisham al-Jaberi, a local military commander, said at least four other soldiers from the Hadrami Elite Forces were also wounded in the attack in an area called Wadi Hajar.

Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had briefly seized control of Mukalla and several other towns and cities in the neighboring Shabwa, Abyan and al-Bayda provinces. Local forces, backed by the UAE member of the Saudi-led coalition drove them out in a series of military operations over the past two years.

But militants still operate in remote areas in southeastern Yemen, including in Abyan, Shabwa and al-Bayda.

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, is fighting in Yemen against Iran-aligned Houthis, who seized large parts of the country in a series of operations that began in late 2014, culminating in forcing the internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Editing by Alison Williams